Summary of the Novel
Post-Traumatic Stress and an Interview with the Author
Sample Chapters
Comments from Readers
Coming Attractions
Leave a Note
How to Buy
Children of CIA and Secret Service Operatives
The Dead are Dancing, a novel by William Lloyd Roller
An Interview with the Author

Q: 1. You're a family therapist. Why did you write a novel?

As a clinician and expert in family trauma, I can reach only a few hundred — or at best a few thousand individuals and families in my practice. As an author, I can reach many, many thousands of people who will respond to my message, and perhaps seek help for themselves. It can be deeply transforming to see the events of your life portrayed in a dramatic story. I want my readers to respond with a gut level "Yes" of recognition.

Q: 2. Why do you think Americans are going to read your novel?

My novel will strike a chord of recognition in the American people because it shows the truth of how past traumas in our history as a nation influence and affect current behavior.

Q: 3. Can you give examples of that?

The attacks of 9/11/01 awakened traumatic memories of Pearl Harbor and the onset of the Second World War. Although the two historical contexts are very different, the American people reacted by recalling the earlier trauma and declaring war. The trauma of chattel slavery began in 1619 but it still haunts the relationships between blacks and whites in America today.

Q: 4. You treat patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. What is that?

A person who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder has lived through an event that is outside the realm of everyday life, the experience of which, would traumatize any individual. These events can be the experience of war or combat in war , acts of state terrorism, torture, physical assaults, family violence and sexual abuse. A person's response is characteristic and universal. Specifically, memories of trauma force their way into consciousness and cause high anxiety, often accompanied by attempts to deny the event. Repetitive dreams and/or obsessive thoughts disturb the individual, causing a loss of interest in usual activities, loss of sexual interest, isolation and the absence of emotional expression — or psychic numbing.

Q: 5. How did you show post-traumatic stress disorder in your novel?

Most of my characters suffer from memories of trauma related to war or violence in the family. In Billy Richcreek's family, his father suffers from memories of the violence he inflicted as an assassin for American espionage operations. Billy suffers from memories of his sister's murder and from listening to his father's tales of multiple assassinations. The coaches of the Cannon High School football team re-live their war experiences by acting out the Battle of Anzio Beach at football practice. Billy's girlfriend, Belle, suffers from the trauma of her mother's suicide and her father suffers from being a prisoner of war at the hands of the Nazis. Buss, the hog man, suffers from trauma he experienced as a soldier in Korea. Frank shows full-blown post-traumatic stress symptoms following his brief tour in Viet Nam. It's quite a list.

Q: 6. Is post-traumatic stress related to recovered memory of sexual abuse?

Yes and no. Post-traumatic stress disorder is defined by observable behavior of the individual. Recovered memory is not so observable. In both cases, a person can "act out" or display typical symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms acted out include acts of incest or sex abuse perpetrated on the sons and daughters.

Q: 7. Why won't your hero, Billy, have sex with his girl friend, Belle?

In the novel, Billy has taken an oath of purity until Communism is defeated. In fact, Billy suffers from a condition called Secondary Impotence — meaning he cannot maintain an erection. This condition is common among boys who sleep in their mothers' beds following the desertion of their fathers. In Billy's case, his father's memories of trauma drove him to murder his own daughter and then abandon his family. By taking his father's place, Billy confuses the sex act in general with the act of impregnating his mother in particular, thus violating the taboo of incest. It's no wonder he can't get it up.

Q: 8. In your novel, Billy dreams his father's nightmares and seems to be deeply affected by events he took no part in. How can this be possible?

Dr. Maureen Katz of the University of California School of Medicine at San Francisco is studying what she calls the intergenerational transmission of trauma due to war, genocide, and terror. Much of the communication we have with our children is non-verbal — and that means we communicate to them much more than we ever realize. Children have an uncanny ability to read the emotional state of a distressed parent. In the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, the child penetrates the nightmares and reads the unspoken terrors of the parent. In my novel, Billy is obsessed not only with the stories his father tells him about his career as a paid US government assassin. He also is obsessed with his father's terrors which Billy can only intuit or imagine.

Q: 9. What are we supposed to learn from the violence you portray in the novel?

Unfortunately, people learn very little from violence because they either drop into denial of the event or minimize the effect it has on their lives. I hope my readers will learn some of the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder and the destruction it can lead to if left untreated.

Q: 10. In your novel, you portray Americans and America as having some deep problems. Do you expect people to like being told how screwed up they are?

I expect my readers will resonate with the suffering of the characters in The Dead Are Dancing. I especially believe that many people have faced the dilemma of my hero, Billy: Does he keep to himself his reservations about what his town and country are doing? Or does he risk being called unpatriotic because he speaks his conscience and questions the course of American foreign policy? I believe this is a real dilemma for all people who are called upon to be leaders of their community and nation — and one that is played out daily not only in America's heartland, but throughout the world.

Q: 11. Satire or not, your novel gives a negative image of America. Why do you dislike America so much?

As a native son of Illinois, I am loyal to the memory of what America once was — a haven for free-thinking people who fled the endless military campaigns of the imperial powers of Europe. Our forefathers came to America to escape the taxes and conscription that war-crazed monarchs of Europe imposed upon them. In writing this satire, I remain loyal to that original vision of America.

Q: 12. Your novel deals with the Cold War and the war in Viet Nam. Why should anyone care about that anymore? Haven't we gotten over that?

The malady of post-traumatic stress, by definition, means we do not get over our emotional wounds easily. In the case of the Cold War and Viet Nam, many Americans carry a burden of sorrow and grief in their hearts related to those events. Often Americans try to deal with these wounds by attempting to forget. In my novel, I have the townspeople drinking from "the springs of forgetfulness." It doesn't work. The memories come back as post-traumatic stress symptoms, like anxiety, nightmares, physical complaints, insomnia, irritability, and sometimes take the form of violent acts. As William Faulkner once said, "The past is not dead... its not even past."

Q: 13. When Billy and his friends plan to blow up the county draft board, aren't they carrying out a terrorist act against their country?

Acts of terror are defined as violence against states and the citizens of states so as to intimidate or undermine the security or existence of the state. However, these states must derive their sovereignty from the legitimate authority they exercise over their citizens. If states are exercising illegitimate authority over their citizenry, the citizens are inclined and obligated to resist with the violent destruction of property and person — as was the case with the Boston Tea Party and the Free French Resistance to the Vichy government in World War II. The actions of Billy's group, in my opinion, would qualify as acts of civil disobedience and violent resistance to the illegitimate authority of the American government.

Q: 14. In the novel, Billy and Frank show love and loyalty for each other. Why then, does Billy put Frank in danger so many times? Isn't he manipulating his friend just to carry out his own plan of action?

Billy is manipulative as his girlfriend, Belle, points out and cannot agree to. In this way, he is like his enemy, Mayor Hicks. Both of them feel justified in sacrificing people for the ultimate success of their goals. Both believe that the end justifies the means — and this ultimately leads to the destruction of Cannon.

Q: 15. In the novel, Billy knows that his neighbors and countrymen are wrong about a lot of things. Why does he keep silent for so long?

This is a conflict for many earnest and well-meaning people who take on leadership roles in the American heartland. At what point should I let my conscience speak? And when should I let my dissenting voice be heard? Do I dare risk being called unpatriotic if I question the course of our foreign policy? These are important questions that must be answered everyday in America and throughout the world by every person who assumes a position of power.

Q: 16. Billy's father, Bodie, is a strange character. In the novel, you state that he escorted Nazi defectors to the United States as part of his service for the American Espionage Squad. Surely, that's your fictional creation of historical events?

No, it's not my invention. Strange as it may seem, U.S. espionage operatives did bring large numbers of Nazi SS officers to Buenos Aires, Argentina — and then escorted many of these to the United States to live under cover and provide information. In 1943, following their defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad, many SS officers who had served on the Russian front wished to defect. Our government considered them to be intelligence assets, given their knowledge of the Soviet Union, and wanted them in the United States. This operation is still largely unknown to the American people. But it was American foreign policy at the time, as I learned from interviews with FBI and OSS operatives who carried out the plan.

Q: 17. Your novel raises a number of moral questions that may be uncomfortable for the reader. Some examples are the legitimacy of our aggression in Viet Nam and the censorship of dissenting opinion in American discourse. What is your point as a novelist in raising these questions?

The French novelist Albert Camus said that it was not the novelist's job to answer moral questions like these. As a novelist, it's your duty to raise the questions, put them in the face of your countrymen, and keep them alive and at the center of your culture. Are we masters of our fate or subjects to our fate? That is the great question for world fiction. I hope my novel shows that we are neither condemned by our genes nor our history to repeat the mistakes of our fathers.

Q: 18. Your character Billy was groomed to be a leader of his town, Cannon, Illinois. Why can't he assume the leadership of his people like he always planned to do?

In the novel, Billy pledges himself to be a leader of his people in order to correct their government's misguided policies at some later point when he is in charge. When that later point arrives, he finds that he has become a part of a system that cares nothing for human values and will crush those who would change its course. He learns this when he confronts Mayor Hicks and in response, the mayor brutally attacks the anti-war demonstration Billy has organized.

Q: 19. Isn't your novel about the friendship between Frank and Billy — that is, isn't it a `buddy' novel?

The idea for the novel developed around the friendship between the two boys. I find Frank the more interesting character. He's loyal and worshipful of his friend, yet finds the strength to break with him and enlist for Viet Nam. When Frank returns, he has developed as a character and sees clearly that Billy is heading for disaster. But he follows Billy out of friendship — and his love for Billy leads to Frank's death. He's a tragic figure.

Q:20. The appearance of the Angel of Death is a turning point in your novel because from that point on, Billy voices his opposition to the Viet Nam war. Who or what is the Angel of Death?

The novel does turn on the Angel of Death. As is the case in allegorical novels of this kind, there can be several interpretations of what it means. The Angel of Death is a Christian symbol taken from the text of the Apocalypse in the New Testament. I believe the Angel of Death is a projection of Billy's own destructive impulses which he struggles to overcome. In his vision, he sees the Angel destroy the children of Cannon, Illinois by fire. And yet, in the novel, it is Billy who orders the immolation of Cannon. Billy, like the rest of the people of Cannon, is caught in a web of violence and vengeance, and try as he might, he cannot escape that dark legacy.